Ethiopia’s access to the coast has occupied the minds of the country’s rulers since time immemorial. This is because being landlocked undermines Ethiopia’s ability to grow its economy, develop its military (navy force) and exert influence across the Horn of Africa.
We see this preoccupation in the history of Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 1952, Eritrea – a coastal country – was controversially federated into Ethiopia. Failure to maintain this annexation led to Eritrean independence in 1993 and Ethiopia became a landlocked country once again. This was a major blow for the new administration that had taken over political power in 1991. For the new government this translated into some limitations on their economic and political goals for the country.
As a scholar of African politics, I have researched Ethiopia and its relations with its neighbours, including its civil wars, political reforms, national identity, state building and border tensions.
There is no doubt that Ethiopia’s lack of direct access to the sea has constrained its ability to cater for its large population and hindered economic growth and development. Politically, being landlocked limits Ethiopia’s geostrategic options in the Horn of Africa and beyond
Ethiopia has several options for peaceful access to the sea. All of them could have a positive economic impact not only in Ethiopia but across the region. The options include further engagement with Eritrea, Djibouti and Somaliland on equitable terms for the use of their ports.